Oh, Mr. Porter! (1937)
Director: Marcel Varnel
Cast: Will Hay, Moore Marriott, Graham Moffatt
Synopsis: With the help of a relative, a hopeless railway employee is made stationmaster of Buggleskelly. Determined to make his mark, he devises a number of schemes to put Buggleskelly on the railway map, but instead falls foul of a gang of gun runners.
Will Hay’s most famous film begins with a throwback to the ‘phantom rides’ from the early days of cinema, and then swiftly establishes itself as a similar classic of a bygone age. Filled with witty quips and one-liners from Hay and his comic sidekicks, plump Graham Moffatt and slightly crazed old-timer Moore Marriott, the film rockets along like Gladstone, delivering laughs right up to the end of the line, and providing us with a curiously eccentric glimpse of a time and country long gone. Some people might be put off by its age, the rural setting, and the fact that it’s in black-and-white, which is a shame because most modern comedies can’t hold a light to classics like Oh. Mr. Porter!.
Hay plays William Porter, a rail employee so inept that he is trusted only to act as a wheel-tapper who, thanks to the influence of his snobbish sister, gets a job as stationmaster at the station in the tiny Irish village of Buggleskelly. Once there he finds that the station, at which no train ever stops, has been allowed to fall into a state of disrepair under the care of the lazy duo of Albert (Moffat) and Harbottle (Marriott), and sets about putting the place on the map.
It’s a shame that Hay decided to disband the successful partnership he enjoyed with Moffatt and Marriott; the films in which they appear are always enlivened by their presence, and none of Hay’s subsequent films ever reached the heights of those made during this period. Some of the interplay between the three is truly hilarious, and delivered at such a fast pace that they almost pass you by. The film was clearly shot on a shoestring budget, but stands as proof that you don’t need a huge budget to make a successful film that will stand the test of time. This one finishes with a couple of terrific set pieces — the first on a windmill, the second on a speeding train — that would seem more suited to a high-octane action thriller than a seventy-year-old comedy, but Hay and crew manage to keep the laughs coming throughout.
This is a diamond of a movie — if you overlook it the loss will be yours.
(Reviewed 11th September 2005)